Celebrating Double Digits in the Poconos

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My second oldest son turned ten this weekend.  Double digits is a really big deal so we decided to make a big deal out of it.  Since his birthday fell on a weekend, we decided to whisk the kids off for an overnight stay in a hotel.  We got a cheap – double digits indeed – room in a hotel just outside Scranton that had a swimming pool and breakfast included.

After a morning of card and gift opening, we piled into the car and headed off into the Poconos.  Saturday was a grey day of drizzle and chill winds so we focused on indoor activities.  First up was Country Junction, the general store we seem compelled to visit every time we are in the area.  It is a bizarre and entirely bonkers place and I highly recommend that you stop by should you ever be in the area.  The kids always have a blast wandering around and looking at all the weird and wonderful items of decor, popping in to watch a bit of a movie in the cinema room, pressing all the interactive buttons, collecting eggs for a treat at the end, and visiting the animals in the pet shop area – all by following the yellow brick road.  An indication of the randomness of Country Junction is the contents of my shopping trolley: I bought two non-stick loaf tins, four pots of cheap pick’n’mix and a squeaky rubber pig.  More indoor fun was had when we reached the hotel as the boys jumped and splashed around in the pool until they had built up an appetite for dinner.  There was a restaurant next door to the hotel so we did not even have to get back in the car to go out for the birthday meal.  We were all so stuffed by our main courses and salad bar visits that we did not even make it to dessert.

Sunday was thankfully much brighter and warmer so we were able to take the boys for some outdoor excursions.  First up was the outdoor section of the Steamtown  rail museum in Scranton, which can be accessed via the Mall.  This is a collection – gathered by one man in the 1950s I believe – of steam locomotives, freight and passenger cars.  Mr Pict and I had visited there in April 2014 as part of a day photographing dilapidated and decayed sites but this was the boys’ first time there.  They moaned that they were not allowed to clamber onto every train and that they were not allowed to wander into the carriages but they had fun nevertheless.  They climbed onto trains, scrambled over piles of gravel, got grubby picking up lumps of coal, and raced each other while balancing on railway lines.

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From industry to nature, our concluding excursion was to the Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park.  Mr Pict and I first went there alone but then took the kids there on Father’s Day in 2014 and it is fast becoming a favourite spot.  The theory is that this unique geological landscape was formed in the valley by successive freezing and thawing processes that cracked the rock and turned it into large boulders.  My kids just love leaping from rock to rock and seeing how quickly they can get from the car park end of the site to the other end, quite a decent distance.  I meanwhile do not feel so confident on my feet.  The instability triggers the wobbliness I normally get from my fear of heights and I am frankly not as swift and nimble as my kids either.  I, therefore, chose to only wander so far out into the field and then find a nice flat rock to sit on while watching my kids becoming brightly coloured dots on the horizon line.

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Our weekend away was full of relaxed fun and worked well as a celebration of being ten years old.

Poconos Day 3 – Shades of Death

We got up early and packed up so we could fit in one more Poconos excursion before heading back to the Philadelphia suburbs and our four kiddliwinks.  Since there was so much more to see and do in Hickory Run State Park, we decided to head there and do a different trail.  The one we chose was called Shades of Death.  Thankfully the gloomy, doom-laden name was not indicative of the trail itself.

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I was initially disappointed as the trail was very close to the road, and even had us skirting along the side of the road at one point, but then the trail began to curve away from the roadside and we lost the traffic noise at the same time the walk became far more scenic.  The rocky trail meandered along the banks of the Sand Spring Run.  The rock formations created lots of attractive waterfalls and there was an appealing dam weir at the midway point of our hike.  Logging and tanning were once undertaken in these woods and whether from that period in time or some other, we could see the remains of various stone built structures.  These included a narrow flight of steps.  Despite my initial reservations, it was actually a very picturesque hike.

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Driving through a town named Lehighton, we came across Country Junction, “The World’s Largest General Store”.  Well, how could we pass up the opportunity to partake of that gem of Roadside America?  We parked up and entered.  When we entered, there was a fudge stall on one side and a screen playing ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  This was my kind of place!  It transpired that Oz was a theme throughout the store.  The instruction was to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” which was useful advice because I am pretty sure I could have become lost in the store amid all the amazing clutter had I not clung to the painted yellow bricks on the floor.

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The store was crazy.  It sold anything and everything.  Hardware and DIY items, elaborate taxidermy, garden sculptures on every scale and for every taste, jewellery, hand bags, pickles and jams, toys, pets …. Anything and everything you could think of.  There was even a petting zoo but we skipped that until a time when we would return with the boys.  It was ludicrous, brilliant, awesome and bizarre.  It was the perfect conclusion to our getaway in the Poconos.

Poconos Day 1 – Big Boulders at Hickory Run

Having just returned from our family adventures in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC, Mr Pict and I immediately headed out on another trip.  My in-laws generously offered to look after the children while my husband and I had a break away.  We felt a bit bad to be leaving the kids on Easter Sunday, which ought to be family time but, by the same token, it has been an utterly exhausting almost two years since Mr Pict first suggested we emigrate and we have not been away together without kids since March 2012 and we felt it would be beneficial to have some time as a couple so that we can recharge our batteries as parents too.  Am I justifying my abandonment of my children too much here?

I have always wanted to stay in a cabin in the woods.  W did not quite find a log cabin, which would have been my dream, but we did find a cottage in the Poconos, a mountainous area not too far from home but far enough into the countryside to function as a nice break from the hustle and bustle of modern life too.

We arrived in the area and went to Hickory Run State Park.  We went to see the massive field of huge boulders that formed there during the last Ice Age.  A pattern of freezing and thawing had broken the rock down into huge chunks that then accumulated at the bottoms of the mountains.  Then the melted ice would, in the summer months, carry these chunks of rock and other debris across the valley, depositing them at their present location.  Over thousands of years, the field of boulders grew and grew.  We hopped from boulder to boulder to get from one edge of the circumference to the other.  The occasional wobble freaked me out a bit because of the height but I could imagine my boys entirely loving it as they appear to be like mountain goats and to not have inherited my vertigo.  This is apparently a geographically unique landscape and certainly I have never seen anything even remotely similar. 

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We tried to find the start of a trail in the adjacent woods but without luck.  We also hoped to see more wildlife but all we saw was one chipmunk, some spiders basking in the sun and birds.  We did hear a very loud woodpecker but did not catch a glimpse of it.  Ironically we saw dozens of deer on our drives around the area but did not catch sight of one in the actual woods. 

Having given up on finding the trail at the Boulder Field end because of time constraints, we drove to the beginning of another trail.  This one took us down to Hawk’s Falls, a fairly small but very loud waterfall.  It was a nice, gentle walk through the woods to reach it.  We saw the waterfall from the top by standing on a rocky outcrop and then from the bottom.

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We decided it was time to go and find our cottage.  Thankfully we had been given very clear directions from the owners so it was actually pretty easy to find.  It would have been a challenge otherwise.  The cottage was lovely: dark wood and a stone fireplace gave it the feel of a hunting lodge and a large comfy sofa, beaten copper sink and cases of old books added to the snug charm of the place.  It also had a wonderful porch that would be great to sit out on on really hot days.  There were a few other houses around but otherwise the cabin was located in the middle of nowhere.  As darkness fell, it was absolutely pitch black outside.  We loved the remoteness.

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We headed out to find food and decided that Stroudsburg was the best bet.  The town looked rather sad and even moribund but the main street was actually rather appealing looking and the town centre was clean and attractive.  Unfortunately it seemed like all the restaurants in the main street were closed because of it being Easter Sunday and, as we travelled in ever wider circles, we found that several places were permanently closed.  So we grabbed some food essentials in Walmart before undertaking a final circuit of town to make a definitive decision.  In doing so, we passed a flaming car in the road and a man waving a flare to warn other motorists and then we passed a fire engine slowly going out to deal with it a good few moments later.  We gave up on the idea of being fed in Stroudsburg so we had to rely on the roadside chain eateries instead.

 As such we ended up in Red Lobster.  I have not eaten in one since 1995 when I had a coupon for a great deal at Red Lobster so we decided to take the Metro and give it a try.  Only when we alighted at East Falls Church did we learn that the restaurant was still a fair hike so we walked for ages in the humid air to get there.  I remembered the trek to get there and the fact I had then glugged my way through a large glass of ice tea within seconds of being seated but I could not remember anything of the food. That was a troubling sign since I have a good memory for great dining experiences and we also knew that the company had gone bankrupt which was another red flag.  However, options being slim, we decided to give Red Lobster another go and actually it was surprisingly good.  The restaurant had a pleasant ambience, the waitress was cheerful and very efficient and the food was well cooked and tasty.  We decided to do a four course special.  I had New England clam chowder with a garden salad, followed by wood grilled tilapia with wild rice and broccoli and then finished with key lime pie.  The waitress also brought us endless cheese biscuits (meaning the scone type) which were delicious and addictive.  She even made us take a doggy bag of them home which was great as they became breakfast for the next morning.  It is always nice to be pleasantly surprised out of cynicism.